Tag Archives: classical ballet

No Such Thing As Bad Press, Right?

Once again “ballet” took the limelight recently and was brought to the masses; this time to an audience of millions as part of the Olympic closing ceremony. As a Darcey Bussell fan, I had held high hopes for the success of her involvement and given the setting, it could have been spectacular. I stand disappointed.

Ms. Bussell, five years on from her retirement from the Royal Ballet, showed she still has it. Sadly, the choreography (the only word that adequately describes this is “naff”), costumes and music were a puerile attempt to get viewers to swallow the bitter ballet-pill. I was once of the opinion that so long as dance was being represented in such a public arena, all was well – I have now revised my thinking. A very dear friend once said to me “it doesn’t matter that people are reading books, if the books they are reading are awful”; the same goes for ballet – it would have been better had it been absent from the closing ceremony, rather than being present in such a cheapened form.

An artform, such as dance, can only survive if it maintains its standards. If its popularisation depends on lowering these standards, then the artform is doomed to failure. Ballet is not what we saw in the Olympic Stadium on Sunday evening, and trying to say it is only serves to under-cut what dancers and choreographers have strived for centuries to promote and preserve. And it wasn’t only the production that I must find fault in, but some of the dancers – many of whom seemed very unfamiliar with the pointe shoe. I’m all for giving something a go, but when an audience of millions is watching, there’s no place for ballet-dilletantes.

I am fully aware that with the opening ceremony and athletics taking precedence, there wasn’t much time to rehearse in the performance space. Such details being known very much in advance should have served as an opportunity for the production team to pare down their ambitions. Classical Ballet, and Darcey Bussell, both have suffienct integrity to stand their ground in such a setting, without all the hoopla that we witnessed. It would have served both better to have been given something more in keeping with the art’s heritage, rather than dragging dance further into the gutter and away from it’s lofty past.

 

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It’s All In The Name

Contemporary dance, by its definition, should cover all new dance currently being created. This is not the case; the term has a plasticity which sees it being used to describe not only new dance, but non-classical dance that was new a century ago. There must be a point at which “contemporary” dance is no longer contemporary – or is contemporary dance much bigger than just a single genre. Perhaps it’s all in the name: it’s new and daring, and it’s staying that way.

When choreographers such as Ted Shawn and Martha Graham were creating works in a new movement language, it was called modern, or contemporary, dance. Until then, folk, social and classical dance (including ballet) were the prevailing forms practised. Dance which is innovative, using the body in a new way is still referred to as contemporary today, but in the context of this “new” contemporary dance, surely the contemporary dance which has gone before, must go by a different name. Well it doesn’t seem to be.

Back in the time of Domenico da Piacenzo, when the steps that grew up to form the ballet alphabet were in their infancy, classical steps would have been contemporary – but they aren’t any more. We seem to have become stuck in our quest to compartmentalise. Maybe in centuries to come, dance scholars will refer to what we call ballet and contemporary dance as something entirely different.

The issue may stem from the teaching. In a classical ballet class, one is taught classical ballet. In a contemporary class, one may be taught one of many different disciplines, and most likely a unique form, influenced by several. Such a seemingly banal detail can easily change how people percieve both disciplines. The broad-reaching title may seem to do a disservice to the many individual contributors in the field, but it also allows a rich fluidity between them, mirroring the open-nature of the contemporary dance artist.

While classical ballet seems to be stuck in a rut, forever fighting against the Degas archetype, contemporary dance is flourishing; branching off in myriad directions, infiltrating every wing of the arts. The work of some contemporary artists that is still influencing the dance world today may be approaching or even exceeding  100 years of age, but it is still part of the contemporary dance lineage. Perhaps ballet died the second it assumed its classical prefix, and it really is all in the name.

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